Tag Archives: comedy

Article 19 presents: ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Making a sixteenth century Shakespearean comedy appeal to a twenty-first century audience is a daunting task, but Article 19’s take on The Taming of the Shrew left the audience in stitches. Set in Padua, it portrays a battle between the sexes in which Petruchio sets out to tame his vicious and feisty bride Kate, known as a ‘shrew’ for her sharp tongue.

The adaptation stuck to the original script and included the original framing device, often omitted in some performances, where a nobleman puts on a play to trick a drunken Christopher Sly. This seemed slightly unecessary, as although it was meant to be comical, it was one of the actor’s wigs accidentally falling off that drew the most laughter from the audience.

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The play really got going when the main characters burst onto the stage squabbling with each other and talking over one another. The music throughout brilliantly complemented this, evoking both the chaos of the play and the Italian setting very well. Zoe Fabian’s spirited portrayal of Kate was very compelling- playing her as vicious at first but later revealing her vulnerable side when she believes she has been stood up at the altar by Petruchio.

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It is in the dashing Petruchio, played by Jack J. Fairley, that Kate meets her match. The scene in which they first meet was the highlight of the play for me. The chemistry between the two actors was incredible and they really brought to life Shakespeare’s sexual innuendos and the characters’ witty sparring.

Other standout performances came from Jamie Hughes playing Gremio: a wealthy elderly suitor of Kate’s sister, Bianca. Hobbling about the stage with his cane, he was the most believable character and had me and my friend in tears of laughter with his patronising voice and false laughter. Andy Baker was also hilarious as bumbling servant Biondello, whilst simultaneously suggesting that his character is actually more socially aware than the others. It almost seems unfair to pick out certain performances though, as the entire cast were genuinely excellent.

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What was particularly unique about this production was the way it encouraged audience participation, such as when the cast sat alongside the audience to watch the wedding ceremony- transforming the audience into fellow guests. The brilliantly raucous ending had us in stiches but most of all, and perhaps most importantly, you could tell that the cast were having a good laugh too. Because of this they were able to bring one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies to life. On the basis of this performance, I would highly recommend that UoB students go and watch future Article
19 performances; great theatre at a great price, right on your doorstep

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By Ellicia Pendle   @elliciapendle

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Birmingham Footnotes @ 6/8 Kafé

birmingham-footnotesThe Birmingham Footnotes show at the 6/8 Kafé was an entertaining night out. The coffee specialist café seemed an appropriately intimate venue for a very good turnout for this variety comedy show. Lit by candle lights and introduced by an engaging compere, the tone was set for some light-hearted slapstick, wit and humour. There were numerous short stand-up acts which kept the pace of the three-part evening fast and engaging, broken up by a couple of short sketches.

It began with a trio of comedians introduced by the first of the night’s excellent comperes, Jacob Lovick, with his tales of failures in flirtation. The audience were engaged with a show that fulfilled its promise of ‘excitement’ and ‘intrigue’. We learnt to compare the classification of weed as a ‘drug’ to the notion of Pluto as a planet through Ludo Cinelli’s energetic skit and were amused by the ‘Wheatbisk’ stand-up performance by Daniel Moroney. The acts utilised a good range of comedic devices, as pointed out overtly on one occasion.

Dorian Wainwright stepped up to do the compering in the second act and after a short break the fluidity of the evening returned with a timely couple of sketches from ‘Everything but the Gravy’. In the final section the cleverly constructed storyline of Tyler Harding’s rant about the London Underground seemed a simple universal tale that captivated the audience’s imagination and provoked laughter. Following that, we were treated to the wonders of giving blood and the perceived consequences of failing to do so.

kaffe-birminghamMy only criticism during the evening is some of the jokes were not understood by the wider audience beyond the University society; however the format of the evening meant there was a comedy style for every audience member. The humour was light-hearted and self-mocking which made for an uplifting and entertaining evening.

By Adam Spicer
@adam_spicer

The News from Holsam @ The Guild of Students

72680_496874040369677_918888061_nThe News from Holsam, is a new macabre sketch show based on a concept by comedy trio Richard Higgs, Chaz Redhead, and Alice Kennedy, A.K.A. ‘Menage a Trois.’ This week, there has been a growing mystique surrounding the show; its debut, peppered with creepy teaser trailers which can be found on the ‘Visit Holsam’ Facebook page set the tone for the show whilst keeping stubbornly ambiguous about any plot or characters.

A vague backwater town somewhere in the American south, ‘Holsam’ and its disturbed inhabitants are the backdrop for this inventive comedy sketch show, executed brilliantly using film, sound, and lighting (as well as lots of blood) to embellish the morbid world they have created. It is among the blackest of comedies: full of nasty shocks, often with an excitingly malevolent attitude to its audience; to spoil any specifics of the sketches would be to do the show a disservice. The potentially problematic high-concept works brilliantly and the sketches and performances are consistently hilarious.

Despite the gruesome horror exterior, the dominant feeling from the performance is, surprisingly, refreshing. Ultimately, this is due to the distinct lack of irony. There are very few nods, winks or relevant 21st Century cultural references in it – something a lot of the comedy relies on far too heavily, perhaps at the expense of charm or personality. Instead, Holsam’s jokes are driven by the characters, situations, puns and wordplay. The audience also appeared uncomfortable with a surprising amount of slapstick right from the start.

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This is classic, ‘old-school’ sketch comedy by people who clearly love and understand the genre. It’s a breath of fresh air, especially with the added sting in its tail of murder, blood, Satanists and the omnipresent menace of ‘The Bleeding Man.’ To make a comparison, one could say it has its roots in things like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and certainly The League of Gentlemen. The town of Holsam essentially functions in the sketches in the same way Royston Vasey did in The League. However, the charm and childishness of the sketches should not be underplayed. There is a pinch of Horrible Histories in The News from Holsam that adds an unexpectedly playful, whimsical edge amongst all the violence and screaming of its black vignettes.

45701_10152570435400103_1032656385_nAs many have come to expect from this cast, the performances were brilliant. James Dolton, Alexandra Martino and Leo West deftly turn into many hilarious characters, all played with an exhausting amount of energy. Particularly impressive was how each member alternated between variations of accents around Bible-Belt USA, depending on which character they were playing. An especially enjoyable voice was Chaz Redhead’s attorney of law (and moonlighting exorcist) character Joseph Goldenstein. Played with a nasal 1930’s ‘Talkie’ speed and corky pronunciations; for example, ‘commercial’ becoming ‘com-er-she-al.’ Yet they had the self-awareness to call attention to how ridiculous it was they were performing in accents. In one of the  brilliant moments early on, when the audience had just about adjusted their ears to Yanky drawls, Richard Higgs came on with his unmistakable brummy-brogue clash completely without explanation. The characters are excellent too: recognisable archetypes are twisted and mangled, making the cliques dark and monstrous, for instance Alice Kennedy’s pie cooking ‘Southern-Belle’ Mayor we meet initially becomes… well I won’t spoil it.

The News from Holsam is clearly a labour of love and bursting with ideas, playfulness, comedy and horror. It chases all its macabre whimsies to their logical, grizzly conclusions and hopefully this nasty little show will return for a longer run. It is truly exciting and effervescing with cadaverous, messed up ideas.

James Grady

@James_Grady

Mark Thomas ‘Bravo Figaro’

If John Lewis were to open a tattoo parlour, Mark Thomas would be first in line. It is this middle-class spirit that would have disappointed his father, Thomas explains in Bravo Figaro, the second half of a powerfully humorous show, performed at mac last month. Bravo Figaro is an exceptionally poignant tour de force, describing in painstaking detail the build-up to his crowning moment as a son; using his connections to get the Royal Opera House singers into his parents’ bungalow in an attempt to revive his father’s love of opera.

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His father’s mental deterioration is described simply, and, as Thomas assures us, is not the focus of the show. The emotional intimacy is lessened by Thomas’s matter of fact style, his simple stage setting and his brief descriptions of what is going on. Thomas does not allow his audience to indulge themselves in tears, this is not a sob story, it is just a story, stand-up mixed with storytelling, and we are required to laugh when told and not to answer back to any of his questions. It is the strict nature of these rules that gives his show its freedom; on the stage he has the ability to decide how to tell his story, and his performance in Bravo Figaro is truly startling.

He tells the simple tale of a hard-working man who somehow fell in love with opera, not so he could attend and be ‘as good’ as the other opera-goers but to say, as Thomas puts it, ‘ I’m better than you, because I worked for this’. We are not to be drawn in though. Thomas constantly warns his audience about over-simplifying the message; his father was crass, sometimes violent, and the language used to describe him was not for the soft hearted. However, our role is not to act as judge or jury, to assess whether he was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but instead to listen, and watch a story that has been told a hundred times but is never less personal.

Bravo-Figaro-Mark-Thomas-796x1024This second half of the show was a great contrast to the first, yet the sides complimented each other perfectly, his ideologies summed up in a line in the latter half ‘we’re all middle class now- tell that to your cleaner, she’ll be fucking delighted’. The first half involved Mark Thomas on an empty set, telling the audience of his latest exploits, such as The People’s Manifesto and the concept of ‘book heckling’ , yet it was clear that the class issue was an important one for Thomas, and this was explained in the second half.

Surprisingly, considering the middle-class, middle-aged demographic of the audience, Thomas had the spectators roaring with laughter at their own class status, probably because he included himself in the subject of the joke. Indeed, outside of the world Thomas created for his audience, I’m not sure I would openly admit to my more middle-class tendencies, but inside the security of the theatre it was only encouraged. Moreover, book-snobbery was applauded as Thomas described the art of ‘book heckling’, placing notes inside books to congratulate the reader if they have succeeded to read at least a part of a book that could be classed as modern-trash, he mentioned Twilight and One Day explicitly.

Outside the safety of the theatre, Thomas was signing copies of his book and we tentatively picked up some book heckling stickers for a small donation, mine are still in my coat pocket, waiting for a suitable target. My partner-in-crime, however, followed Thomas’s advice to a tee, sticking ‘Staff Recommendation: Keep the Receipt’ on Jeremy Clarkson’s memoirs; a  suitable way to end the days endeavours. Thomas told us openly and clearly what he felt, and we were so moved and amused that we entered into his world, and if book-heckling is allowed here, I think we’ll stay.

By Eleanor Campbell

Flatpack Festival presents: Another Fine Mess

The sixth Flatpack Film Festival kicked off with a great night showcasing several classic silent films. This was the first event of this year’s Birmingham-based film festival, which screens a glut of films for every taste from classics such as The Elephant Man to surreal and niche shorts like The Cat With Hands.

Another Fine Mess was a showcase of black and white comedies from the early part of the twentieth century, accompanied by the expertise of Neil Brand, a pianist who accompanies silent movies across the world (he also featured on Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns TV series).

After we had taken our seats in the (surprisingly warm) cathedral along with 200 others ranging in age from teens to pensioners, Ian Francis, Director of Flatpack, gave a brief introduction to the four day festival taking place at venues across the city. It was then on to the main event as Neil Brand highlighted the recent renaissance of silent film, undoubtedly spurred on by the success of The Artist.

The first film we were show was A Pair of Tights, from 1929, which centred around a pair of tight wads taking two (hungry) ladies on a double date. Resisting their date’s calls for a slap-up turkey dinner, the ‘pair of tights’ agreed to splash out on four ice cream cones. This prompted hilarious scenes involving revolving doors, amorous dogs and fist-shaking policemen, climaxing in what can only be termed reciprocal slapstick violence. It was a great introduction to the genre and you quickly forgot that Neil Brand was playing the piano in the room throughout, his compositions matching the drama and his emphasis perfectly timed with what was happening on screen.

Next up was one of the highlights of the night: a short entitled The Dog Outwits The Kidnapper (1908). What starts out as a very sinister tale of a toddler kidnapping turns rapidly into a heroic story of canine bravery. I won’t ruin it for you, as it’s available on YouTube in all its glory, but I will say though that from a personal perspective any film involving a dog dressed up, or driving a car, is a winner in my book.  See for yourself: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qApoxM41NGQ

Following these were some shorts illustrating the imagination, escapism and fantasy that characterised early black and white films. We were treated to eerie musical accompaniment for a man sneezing until he exploded (as funny as it sounds), a dramatisation of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves (as if it had been filmed on an drug induced high), and a train journey through space to the sun. These were also some of the earliest first colour films, created by artists individually hand-painting every single film cell – an arduous task to say the least, but the results were undoubtedly astonishing to audiences of the time.

Then it was the final event, starring one of, if not the most famous double act in cinema history: Laurel and Hardy in You’re Darn Tootin‘ from 1928. Audience participation was key to the screening of this film, with a drum handed out to replicate the noise of a punch to the stomach, a triangle for a kick to the knee, and pieces of paper for everyone to rip during the fabulous final scene: a mass trouser ripping involving over a dozen characters.

Accompanied by rapturous laughter, Another Fine Mess was a great start to the festival and also a great introduction to the silent film genre, the piano accompaniment and introductions to each short by Neil Brand really enhanced the event. The mixture of ages in the audience shows the variety of appeal these films have, and the overall audio and visual experience were unlike those found in Cineworld, the Showcase or the Odeon, and more like that at the theatre or the concert hall – a refreshing change to say the least.

A final thought for those who may not be too familiar with the stars of the silent comedy era: if you grew up finding the Chuckle Brothers funny, you’ll be in tears watching anything involving Laurel and Hardy.

Words by Andy Newnham

Voice Festival UK: Birmingham regional round

Voice Festival UK came to the University of Birmingham on Saturday 25th of February for a regional round of its nation-wide competition. Three a capella groups from Birmingham, and one from the University of Leeds, sang their hearts out to win a place at the London final, with the ultimate hope of winning a cash prize and the coveted title of ‘Best UK University A Cappella Group 2012’.

While certainly thrilling for the contestants, the evening was extremely enjoyable for the audience also. Parents, friends and random spectators alike really got involved and it was clear there was a lot of support for the singers and the competition in general. The evening ran surprisingly smoothly, thanks to a great technical team and the funny and engaging compere, Matthew Saull. Evidently, a lot of work had been put into the event so as not to detract from the sole reason for being there; to hear the performances.

The night began with an excellent set of vocal arrangements by The Sons of Pitches. Dressed in matching, bright red boiler suits, the group came on to the stage in a burst of energy that was consistent throughout their performance. With mellow and harmonic tunes such, as Kimbra’s Settle Down, as well as an inventive and funny Club Medley, the group’s flexibility and choreography reflected their talent and definitely won the audience over.

The next act from Birmingham was a newly-formed  mixed-group, Voice Versa. Whilst more self-contained than the previous act, their performance was strong nonetheless. Their arrangement of Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours was especially superb and caught the interest of the judges who gave them a special award for it at the end of the night.

Despite being the only group from Leeds, the men and women from 95 Keys stood their ground and delivered three powerful arrangements. Their rendition of Chicago, with solos by vocalists, J Fogel and Hannah Perlin, was especially moving and highly appreciated by the judges. The final group, the all-girls Birmingham Songbirds livened the night with their red dresses and fun choreography. Complete with Beach Boys and Spice Girls medlies, their act was vigorous and entertaining.

After an interlude with one of the University’s very own stand-up comedians, the judges came on stage, thanking all attendees and participants. Awards like ‘Best Choreography’ and ‘Best vocal arrangement‘ were deservedly given, building the suspense before revealing who was going to London. It had obviously not been an easy decision, but after much deliberating The Sons of Pitches emerged victorious. Their encore performance ended the night on a high; it was a successful evening and great advertisement in general for Voice Festival UK.

For more info on Birmingham University’s A cappella scene, click on links to the groups’ webpages and  University of Birmingham A Cappella Network on facebook.

Words by Elisha Owen